A perfect storm occurs when a warm wind collides with a cold wind over a warm and wet area. The result is often a very intense and destructive storm.
Here in South Africa, we seem to be experiencing our own ‘perfect storm’. For some time now our nation has been ‘warm and wet’ with corruption, crime, recession, and the like. Then came the warm wind of even more electricity load shedding than last year, followed closely by the cold wind of Covid-19. The results of the ensuing storm are stock exchange and rand collapse, rapidly deepening economic crisis… and panic! Like three apocalyptic horse-men with the 4th grim reaper not far behind!
So, in this brief article, I want to take the account of Jesus in the storm as a model of how we should behave in these crazy times.
The Mark 4:35-4 Account of Jesus in the Storm
“That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” NIV
The storm that Jesus’ disciples found themselves in was furious with waves crashing over their boat and threatening to swamp them. Luke 8 records that ‘they were in great danger’. Very much like a localised micro version of the storm that currently besets us and the whole world.
It Happens Suddenly
One of the details I want to highlight is given in the Matthew 8 account, which records that it all happened suddenly. Here in South Africa, we could track the Covid-19 events unfolding first in China and then in Italy and other countries. We got some idea of the health risks, but we had very little grasp on just how suddenly it would arrive, how quickly it would spread, and how devastating it would be to the economy. It happened suddenly.
I will pick up on other necessary responses in a moment, but here I want to touch on a less obvious response required from us – the need to be adaptable. Now, Covid-19 is physically hardest on the over 70’s age group and it is this same demographic that has the most trouble learning to adapt. Adaptability is the capacity to rapidly change our attitudes, actions, and lifestyles to meet the challenges of new situations. So, 70 years older or not, we all need to acquire this ability, and for this to happen we need to be humble and obediently dependant on the Holy Spirit.
We Are Not Alone
A second point that I want to draw from the account of Jesus in the storm is the fact that the disciples were not alone. They had each other in the boat and they were accompanied by other boats. In South Africa, we are fortunate to be able to draw on the collective knowledge and experience of the best minds in the entire world. Not only are they in similar boats to us, but they have been longer in the storm. We are not the only ones dealing with a financial collapse, health risks, and social isolation. And in addition to this, we as Christians are together in the boats of our local churches and the same Jesus who accompanied the first disciples is the one who said, “Surely. I am with you always, even to the very end of the age.”
What Do We Expect Jesus To Do?
Those first followers seemed not to grasp this reality because they were terrified and cried out, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Of course, Jesus cared for them just as He cares for us. However, a more valid question occurs to me: ‘what did they expect him to do? And by extension, what do we expect him to do in our storm?
Well, it’s clear from their reaction after Jesus supernaturally calmed the storm with a word that they hadn’t expected him to do that. Perhaps they expected him to help them bail, trim the sails, toss out anchors and so on – “wake up rabbi, all hands on deck or we all perish!”
Practical As Well as Faith-Filled
Note, by the way, that although Jesus rebuked the storm and their lack of faith, he did not rebuke their efforts to save the situation. I realise that I am ‘reading a little between the lines’ here, but it is a reasonable deduction. Some of the disciples were seasoned fishermen and would hardly be having a prayer meeting in the boat during a terrible storm.
We, like them, need to be practical as well as ‘spiritual’ in times like this. This is consistent with what Peter later wrote in 1 Peter 4:7 and 5:8: ‘The end of all things is near. You must be self-controlled and alert, to be able to pray… Be well balanced (temperate, sober of mind), be vigilant, and cautious at all times.
So, my take away here is that we too need to be wise and responsible, thoughtful and purposeful. Not in place of being faith-filled, but in addition to it – Faith and responsible action working together. Here is what Martin Luther wrote to his fellow pastors when the Bubonic Plague struck Wittenburg in 1527:
“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us… then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If my neighbour needs me however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely.”
Fear is an Enemy
Unfortunately, our response to a crisis is often either presumptuous ‘faith’ or debilitating fear. Some shout at the devil and bind storm-demons, while other cower and have panic attacks – “Master, master, we’re going to drown!” Now fear triggers a fight or flight reaction that can save our lives if we are being mugged, but in a prolonged crisis, it clouds our judgement, precipitates rash actions, and is the enemy of faith. And if you don’t think that otherwise reasonable people can respond to fear like that then consider:
- Those who buy-up everything in the supermarkets including all the toilet rolls
- And those who sell their equities at 30% down from last year’s values and thus ensure that they actualise their losses.
- What about those who run off at the mouth with every imaginable conspiracy theory and disastrous scenario, effectively spreading their fear to others.
- Not to mention the young and middle-aged who swamp the doctors and clinics with demands for testing and treatment when they know they only have about a 1 in 100 chance of getting really sick and thus putting the people who need to be tested at risk.
What did Jesus say to his disciples concerning this? “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
What is Faith?
Once again a question suggests itself to me: ‘What did Jesus mean by faith?’ By logical deduction, he could not have meant that they should have calmed the storm themselves, by faith. They had no idea at that time that such a thing was even possible for Jesus to perform, let alone themselves. Equally, Jesus surely could not have meant that they should have had faith in their physical seamanship abilities to save the boat. He would also not have meant ‘faith in faith itself’ because this aberrant doctrine had not yet been dreamed. Only one meaning appears to be reasonable –“Where is your faith in me?”
He was in the boat with them all the time and if they had faith in who he was then they would not have been so scared. And so it is with us: Jesus must be the sole and only reasonable object of our faith.
The Climax of the Story
Now for the climax of the story. Jesus rose from his rest, rebuked the storm with a word… and it obeyed him! God displayed His awesome power and glory and the result was:
- The storm died as suddenly as it has come to life,
- His disciples realised just who this Jesus was and wondrously proclaimed, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
We can get so caught up with our preparations and responsible actions that we lose sight of the huge potential of our situation for God to act miraculously. Could this national and international crisis be a time when we will see God arise, speak forth His word, and act? Could this be a time ripe for revival?